Croatia overturns conviction of WW2 'collaborator' Cardinal Stepinac

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Tomb of beatified Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac in Zagreb cathedral, 31 May 11Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Catholics pay homage at the tomb of Stepinac in Zagreb's main cathedral

A Croatian court has annulled the 1946 treason conviction of a Catholic cardinal, ruling that he did not receive a fair trial.

Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac, who died in 1960, initially supported the pro-Nazi Ustasha regime during World War Two, when he was Archbishop of Zagreb.

Critics say he should have done more to stop the Ustasha regime killing Jews, Serbs and Roma. In a 1942 mass he did however denounce racist attacks.

Catholics want him declared a saint.

The Zagreb County Court overturned the 1946 verdict on Friday, with Judge Ivan Turudic saying it had violated the right to a fair trial, prohibition of forced labour and the right to appeal. He said the goal had been "revenge against Stepinac".

The ruling is likely to fuel tensions with neighbouring Serbia.

In 1998 the late Pope John Paul II controversially beatified Stepinac - putting him on the road to sainthood - during a visit to Croatia, where many Catholics see Stepinac as a hero who resisted communism.

After the communist partisans won the war in Yugoslavia they put Stepinac on trial in 1946 and sentenced him to 16 years in jail as a collaborator. He was also given forced labour. He died of thrombosis, under house arrest, aged 61.

The Ustasha puppet regime murdered more than 100,000 people in concentration camps - mainly Jews, Serbs and Roma. Serbia strongly objects to Croatia's moves to get Stepinac canonised.

Stepinac: Hero or collaborator?

History records that, in 1941, while Archbishop of Zagreb, Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac supported Croatia's Nazi-backed government.

But by the following year, he was making speeches against the regime's genocidal policies, which led to the deaths of thousands of Serbs, Jews, Gypsies and Croat opponents.

Critics say his condemnation was not public enough or strong enough. In 1946, he fell foul of the communist rulers of the new Yugoslavia - of which Croatia was a part.

In a trial that Catholics have long maintained was a farce, he was convicted of collaborating with the Nazis.

He was still under house arrest 14 years later, when he died. Mystery continues to surround his death, with many Croatian Catholics believing he was murdered.